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Supporting Poker-Only Sites

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Nov 28, 2012

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Matt LessingerI’m sure a lot of you remember Party Poker. For a period of time it had even more players than PokerStars. I played plenty on both and thought PokerStars had far and away the better software and support, and provided a much better overall experience.

BUT

I also remember one thing Party Poker had that PokerStars didn’t. In the top right corner of the screen you could click on a little symbol that would take you to a blackjack table.

Did that influence the site’s traffic? It’s hard for me to judge, but it certainly couldn’t have hurt. I didn’t go to Party Poker in order to play blackjack, but perhaps others did. Although if someone was interested in playing casino games other than poker, there were plenty of sites that offered slots, craps, roulette, and just about everything under the sun.

Still, I’m not going to pretend that I ignored the blackjack feature entirely. I’d play poker on Party for several hours, and then let’s say my finishing bankroll was $2,495. There were definitely times that I’d click open blackjack and try to win $5 just so I could round my bankroll up to a much more aesthetically pleasing $2,500.

We all know how that generally works out. More often than not, I’d win the $5. But once in a while, I’d lose the $5, then bet $10, then $20, then $40, all in an effort to finish with $2,500. If I lost four hands in a row I’d quit. Then of course I’d wonder how I could spend hours trying to win at poker, only to blow $75 in a minute’s worth of online blackjack.

I didn’t dwell on it, nor was it something worth mentioning to anyone else. But then I went to a friend’s house and watched him play online. When he finished with something like $7,590, he said, “Nooo, we need to get this up to $7,600,” and sure enough he opened the blackjack feature! Of course at that point I told him that I had a tendency to do exactly the same thing, and it became clear that I was not alone. Given that we both idiotically dabbled in blackjack at the end of some of our poker sessions, it’s a good guess that some other players did the same thing too.

Fast forward to now. For the past year I’ve been playing on one of the few poker sites still available to U.S. customers, except today was the first time I paid any attention to that very same blackjack symbol in the corner of the table. I’m sure I saw it when I was first navigating through the new software, but I must have dismissed it entirely. I no longer feel the urge to end every session with a round-numbered bankroll, so I had no desire to experiment with the blackjack feature.

But once I noticed it, I became aware of something else in the lobby that had escaped my attention. Next to the poker lobby is a tab for “casino” which offers several different games, not just blackjack. So essentially, the poker room that I’ve been frequenting could be considered a casino that happens to offer poker. Up until now I had been supporting this site and giving it my business. But now that I’ve “discovered” something that had been right in front of me for a year, I have to reconsider.

For the past few years, and especially since Black Friday, we have been fighting as poker players for the right to play a game of skill online without legal repercussions. We scored a major victory in August when New York Judge Jack Weinstein declared that poker is indeed a game of skill. That decision becomes completely undermined when a “poker site” has slot machines among its offerings. It’s safe to say that is not what the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has been fighting for all this time.

Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem with any new U.S. poker sites that crop up in the near future. They will certainly be heavily regulated, and I’d be shocked if they try to offer anything other than poker. And the only two established sites that we really give a damn about are PokerStars and Full Tilt, neither of which offers anything other than poker.

What I’m concerned about are some of the established sites which have been operating in the U.S. even after Black Friday. In an article I wrote earlier this year, I quoted Nelson Rose and Preston Oade, two prominent lawyers and poker players. They both made a strong case that online poker has always been legal, and that Black Friday had to do strictly with charges of bank fraud and not illegal gambling (“Online Poker in the U.S. (Yes, it still exists)” Volume 25, Issue #2). I believe in their arguments, and that’s why I have continued to play online even after Black Friday. I don’t think the DOJ or any other entity has a legal basis to shut down an online poker site, and that’s even truer after Judge Weinstein’s ruling.

But as I said before, that argument becomes moot when the same site offers gambling games that are clearly not based on skill. My article earlier this year was essentially an argument in favor of supporting some of the smaller sites still operating in the U.S. I felt the need to write this column in order to qualify that argument, by saying that if those sites are offering more than just poker, their legality becomes a tremendous question mark. And you should patronize them at your own risk.

If anything, this shows why we need some new, regulated American sites, and we need them soon. Oh, and by the way: PokerStars, we really miss you. ♠

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find Matt’s other articles at www.cardplayer.com.